The Legacy of Velocipedes

It would seem that there is hardly a pastime so ubiquitous as cycling.  To whatever continent, country, or culture you may visit—cycling is sure to be present.  One can easily conjure up the London businessman, black suit, tie, and bowler (never brown in town) pedaling his way through traffic on his way to business.  In Eastern Africa, the boda-boda, or bicycle taxi is the preferred and most reliable mode of transport.  In China, there are purportedly nine million bicycles in Beijing alone—and many more cyclists.  One can hardly envision downtown Chicago without the bicycle messengers that wend and wind their way between taxis and tourists to deliver packages to high-rise office spaces.

Cycling can be a gentlemanly pursuit, though a modern gentleman should be careful not to confuse cycling for a monolithic endeavor.  There are as many available bicycle designs as there are lifestyles—and for good reason.  One of these designs might suit you.  Consider my incomplete, but hopefully helpful list of options:


The penny-farthing is not the first bicycle design, but it is the first design to be widely available to the public.  Though this concept appears to be unstable and precarious, it has proven to be a very workable design.  From 1884-1886 cyclist Thomas Stevens became the first person to circumnavigate the globe on such a cycle.  The durability of his mount proved remarkable as he encountered only one mechanical failure, which was caused deliberately by a band confused foreign soldiers who were distressed by the sight of it.



English Roadster

The roadster is truly the gentleman’s bicycle.  Its design serves both to give functional everyday transportation while making the process more joyful than, say, a hackney carriage.  The upright design and chain-guard allows a suited gentleman to maintain the neat appearance of his attire.




The road-racer is known by many names—ten speed, road bike, etc.  The design of this bike is mainly for speed and distance.  The rider is in a somewhat hunched over position for aerodynamics and stability—comfort is not a consideration.  Cyclists in the Tour de France spend twenty or more days in the saddle of one of these, frequently logging more than one hundred miles in a single day.




Mountain Bike

The mountain bike is a rather new invention that allows a cyclist to explore trails that are truly best left to equestrians.




Track Bike or Fixie

This design is intended for one purpose only—to go very fast in the confined area of a velodrome.  The frame is very much like a road-racer, though with all extraneous componentry stripped—including gearing, handlebar tape, and even brakes.  Racers have one gear, which is fixed, causing the cyclist to maintain a constant cadence of peddle strokes.  As of late, track bikes have left the track and have been found in urban neighborhoods commonly inhabited by a breed of gentleman called hipster.


The popularity of the BMX bicycle peaked in the 1980’s, though is enjoying a bit of a resurgence.  The BMX is an undersized and very maneuverable bicycle that is perfect for trick riding or racing in an environment that is exceptionally precarious.



Touring Bicycle

The touring bicycle is similar to the road-racer, though is built with a longer wheel-base while putting the rider in a more upright position.  This design is the work-horse of the cycling world.  It is capable of carrying very heavy loads over tremendous distances.  If you intend a cross-country adventure, this should be your choice.



Military Bicycle

As early as the late 1800’s armies all over the world considered the military application of the bicycle.  In fact, up until very recently, the nation of Switzerland employed a sizable force of bicycle soldiers.




Bicycle Polo is a sport not so dependent on a certain style or design but rather the indomitable spirit of its rider.  If you wish to read more on this topic, I encourage you to consider my earlier submission : click here.



Ride to Work Day

Recently people all over the United States celebrated Ride to Work Day.  Many of these were clearly not regular cyclists.  How many people arrived late to work that day, red-faced and out of breath, I wonder. That morning I overheard a few people complain about the distance, the traffic, the potholes, etc.  I don’t fault them for it, cycling is a serious diversion.  Besides, what could I say?  I did not, myself, ride that day.  Not that it is an excuse—but after years of training and racing bicycles, I can say gladly that I have many more miles behind rather than before me.  But I still enjoy the idea of bicycles and I like to talk about them and think about them.  Hearing about people’s morning misadventures in riding to work, I thought about another group of intrepid cyclists whom I find particularly inspirational.  These gentlemen were not racers going for a cup or purse.  Nor were they were attempting to set a speed record or win public acclaim.  They were simply riding to work.  Not many people know about their story, so I will share it with you next week …


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  1. The Legacy of Velocipedes « Modern Gentleman - May 25, 2012

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